A Great Strategy Meeting is a Meeting of Minds


I’ve spoken in previous blogs of the important role conferences, trainings and seminars can play in changing the culture of a community.  On Sept 25, 2013, Ashland hosted the sixth annual Respect, Success, Value and Purpose Conference (RSVP).  This conference was started by a well-known consumer advocate and head of the local mental health and addictions authority.  Over two-hundred consumers, professionals and family members attended the conference and were treated to dynamic speakers throughout.

Doctors Courtenay Harding and Sue Estroff both provided keynotes and breakout sessions.  Dr. Harding’s work is particularly critical, as it was one of the first to convincingly demonstrate that what is labeled Schizophrenia is not, nor does it need to be, a life-long debilitating diagnosis.  The Vermont Longitudinal Study flew in the face of modern notions of what was possible for people with this label. Dr. Harding reviewed the research and focused passionately on the importance of work or other meaningful activity as curative in and of itself.  Being able to answer the all too common question, “What do you do?” builds self-worth and a sense of community.

Dr. Sue Estroff pulled no punches.  She challenged the audiences in both her keynote and breakout to think critically about mainstream views of biological psychiatry and the role and messaging of Big Pharma.  She pointed out the “blindness” of researchers as they engage in research in such a way that it fulfills preconceived notions or theories.  Dr. Estroff pointed out that conversations about coercion, involuntary commitment, violence and safety were difficult conversations but conversations that must happen.  A favorite moment was when Dr. Harding discussed “shared decision making.”  Dr. Harding’s view is that decisions should be made by the person seeking help and by them alone.  The person seeking help should direct services.  There is no sharing with the professionals unless it is to share the decision made by the person!  The audience was asked how often they invite strangers to “share” in critical decisions involving their own lives.  Dr. Estroff would be a natural on MIA.

In addition to our powerful keynotes, we invited local/regional speakers who supported the reform efforts underway for many years now.  What seemed most impactful to me was the impact on attendees and the conversations that were occurring throughout the day.  Many attendees were hearing alternative approaches/views to mainstream biological psychiatry for the first time.  Others have been coming for years and are now bringing their friends, colleagues and families.  In some instances, former attendees are now breakout presenters.  In short, I saw the ability of the conference to change minds, to offer hope and provide resources to go in new directions.

I want to encourage those readers who are in positions to participate in or hold conferences like these.  Our conference planning committee meets regularly over the course of 10 months prior to the conference.  The committee consists of persons with lived experiences of emotional distress as well as professionals and families.  The work is formidable but the results … the payoff …  man it is worth it!  I don’t believe we would have been able to achieve as much reform as we’ve seen if it wasn’t for the annual conference.  In a month or two, the group will reform, evaluate the results of the last conference, celebrate and begin planning for our seventh annual event!  One of my boss’s favorite quotes is from Margaret Mead and goes:  “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.  Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”  Change the world by changing your community.  Get involved with your local mental health/addictions planning authority and challenge them to hold a conference worthy of MIA!

Harding CM, Brooks GW, Ashikaga T, Strauss JS, Breier A (1987). “The Vermont longitudinal study of persons with severe mental illness, II: Long-term outcome of subjects who retrospectively met DSM-III criteria for schizophrenia”. American Journal of Psychiatry 144 (6): 727–35.

Estroff, Sue E.  Medicalizing the Margins.  Reprinted in:  Classics of Community Psychiatry: Fifty Years of Mental Health Outside the Hospital.  Rowe, M. et al. eds., 2011, Oxford University Press.  Pp. 305-309.

RSVP 2013 Conference Website

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Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.


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  1. David,

    Wow!! This is an amazingly wonderful encouraging article about freedom from psychiatric oppression in your state.

    It seems only a short while ago you seemed quite discouraged about such progress or lack thereof like the rest of us, making this coup all the more exciting and hopeful. It seems like many things are happening rapidly in the recovery movement lately with the bogus DSM exposed over the DSM 5 wars, toxic neuroleptic drugs shown to cause more harm than good for the most part along with validated brain shrinkage and especially long term, better alternatives becoming available like Open Dialogue and the Hearing Voices Movement and many other mind boggling events that don’t cause brain damage, but rather brain health and hope.

    You deserve a great deal of credit for your passionate support and involvement in improving and providing real mental HEALTH services in your state while doing all in your power to expose and eliminate the most harmful ones.

    This sounds like a great conference and it’s really amazing that you got such well known, credible speakers there for this momentous event.

    I’m sure this will provide a great deal of hope and encouragement to MIA members because it sure provides that for me.

    Thank you for posting one of many exciting “doses of sanity” we’ve seen recently.

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  2. David,

    Former House Speaker, “Tip” O’Neill coined the phrase, “All politics is local.”

    Your post serves as a great reminder. Thanks for the inspiration!

    “Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes… the ones who see things differently — they’re not fond of rules… You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things… they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.” – Steve Jobs

    In solidarity,

    Duane Sherry

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  3. Thanks David for sharing the joys of such conferences that slowly but surely change the world!! Let me tell you how inspiring it was to read a favorite moment of yours which
    “…was when Dr. Harding discussed “shared decision making.” Dr. Harding’s view is that decisions should be made by the person seeking help and by them alone. The person seeking help should direct services. There is no sharing with the professionals unless it is to share the decision made by the person! The audience was asked how often they invite strangers to “share” in critical decisions involving their own lives.
    That moment of yours rings so true to my ears especially as the new big thing here in Denmark is ‘shared decision making’. A euphemism to give the impression of equality where little exists!

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  4. Thanks, David! It was very encouraging to hear of such a successful organizing endeavor! I’d love to hear Courtenay Harding speak and it’s so awesome that Dr. Estroff spoke out against Pharma.

    There are some people in our state that have taken on organizing a yearly ‘Recovery Conference’ and I think, more and more, that it may become a real force in transforming some of the ideas that drive our systems here.

    It’s inspiring to hear a little about how you all organize the RSVP conference (meeting regularly, involving multiple stakeholders, etc.)- thanks for sharing about this. I didn’t even know this existed…so imagine all the other amazing things that are going on that I might not know about.

    People are doing a lot of great things out there.

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    • Both these ladies are powerful speakers!

      Thanks for your kind words and I’m encouraged that you also have a local conference that is making a difference. It takes time to change a culture, even at a local level, but if we’re persistent, I think there’s a real possibility for lasting reform.

      For me, one of the real strengths of MIA is and can be the connecting of like-minded people in this country and around the world. We learn from each other, support and encourage each other and have each others back when necessary!

      Thanks again for your efforts,

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